December 17, 2018 5:09PM

45,000 “Special Interest Aliens” Caught Since 2007, But No U.S. Terrorist Attacks from Illegal Border Crossers

President Trump claimed last week that “people are pouring into our country, including terrorists.” This came after his unsubstantiated claim that Middle Easterners are traveling in the caravan. Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) fellow Todd Bensman has repeatedly defended these types of claims by equating immigrants from “countries of interest” with “terrorists.” This conflation is common and rarely challenged as Homeland Security officials and members of Congress frequently describe immigrants from these countries as a terrorist threat. Despite Border Patrol apprehending tens of thousands of foreign nationals from these countries of interest and many thousands more who have undoubtedly entered illegally, not a single person has been killed by a terrorist who entered as an illegal border crosser from any of the countries of interest.

Special Interest Alien Apprehensions

The terminology used to describe these immigrants varies considerably between sources. In 2011, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Inspector General defined the term “specially designated countries” to mean countries “that have shown a tendency to promote, produce, or protect terrorist organizations or their members.” Border Patrol Chief David Aguilar described “Special interest countries” as “basically countries designated by our intelligence community as countries that could export individuals that could bring harm to our country in the way of terrorism.”

These definitions could apply to nearly every country in the world, as just about every major country has “produced” or “exported” at least one terrorist. With several exceptions, the lists have consisted primarily of countries with large Muslim populations. The designated countries have changed repeatedly over the years:

In 2003, DHS released a list of 52 countries. In 2004, the list included 35 countries, two of which were new. In 2007, the list was referenced in a news article, and though the full list was not quoted, it included another country (Tanzania) that was not on either of the prior two lists. In 2018, DHS released yet another list of countries where CBP “had Enforcement Actions against aliens from the following ‘Special Interest Aliens’ countries for FY18.” This partial list included yet five more countries that were not on the prior lists. Altogether, these lists have contained 63 countries. Only 14 have shown up on all the lists.

From 2007 to 2017, Border Patrol apprehended 45,006 immigrants from any of the countries ever designated as a “country of interest” (See Table 1). During the same period, it apprehended 4,109 from countries that made it onto all three lists. Given the inconsistency in these lists and for sake of completeness, Figure 1 shows the annual number of special interest aliens apprehended by Border Patrol separated by the different lists and those apprehended from countries that appeared at least once on a single list.  Fiscal Year 2007 is the earliest year that Border Patrol has made the number of apprehensions by citizenship publicly available.

Figure 2 shows that only 0.85 percent of all Border Patrol apprehensions from 2007-2017 were special interest aliens.  This includes aliens from any country that ever appeared on any special interest countries list.  The other 99.15 percent, 5.25 million apprehensions, were for illegal immigrants from countries other than those that have ever appeared on a special interest countries list.

With 16,979 apprehensions, Indians were the most common “special interest aliens” apprehended from 2007 to 2017, followed by Brazilians with 12,925 apprehensions. Both countries were on the 2003 list, but not listed in 2004 or 2018. Bangladeshis were the most commonly apprehended “special interest aliens” who were on all three lists with 2,469 apprehensions.

No Terror Attacks on U.S. Soil

Zero people were murdered or injured in terror attacks committed on U.S. soil by special interest aliens who entered illegally from 1975 through the end of 2017.  However, seven special interest aliens who initially entered illegally have been convicted of planning a terrorist attack on U.S. soil.  They all entered illegally from Canada or jumped ship in American ports before the list of special interest countries even existed.  None of them successfully carried out their attacks and none illegally crossed the Mexican border.

Five of those seven illegal border crossers resided as illegal immigrants in the United States.  Walid Kabbani, a native of Lebanon, walked across the Canadian border illegally in 1987 to deliver a bomb to his co-conspirators in the United States.  He was discovered by a local police chief and arrested before he could carry out his attack.  Algerian-born Ahmed Ressam attempted to enter with false documents in 1999 on his way to attack Los Angeles International Airport as part of the so-called Millennium Plot.  U.S. border inspectors apprehended him, discovered his bomb in the spare tire well of his car, and then arrested him.  In the scuffle to detain Ressam, he broke free of U.S. law enforcement officers and ran into the United States before being apprehended a short time later.  Since Ressam technically entered the country unlawfully when crossing the Canadian border, we included him on this list. 

Algerian-born Abdelghani Meskini aided Ressam in his plot after he entered the United States illegally as a stowaway on a ship.  Palestinian Gazi Ibrahim Abu Mezer, who was born in Israel and traveled on Israeli papers, was apprehended at a bus stop after illegally entering the United States in 1997.  Somali-born Nuradin M. Abdi originally entered the U.S. unlawfully in 1995 on a fake passport.  While he did not cross the border unlawfully, he did so on a false passport and would have been blocked like Ressam was if his subterfuge was discovered by Customs agents.  In order to include the maximum number of possible terrorists so that we bias the results against ourselves, we included Abdi.    

From 1975 through 2017, a total of nine terrorists entered the United States illegally and only three did so along the Mexican border: Shain Duka, Britan Duka, and Eljvir Duka.*  They crossed as children with their parents in 1984 and were arrested as part of the planned Fort Dix terror attack that the FBI foiled in 2007.  The Dukas are ethnic Albanians from Macedonia – neither country has appeared on any special interest countries list.  The only terrorists who crossed the border with Mexico illegally did so as children, decades before becoming terrorists, and were not even from the special interest countries.

In addition to the five illegal immigrant border crossers from the special interest countries, two people from those countries entered illegally and applied for asylum.  We typically count these people as asylum seekers, but Bensman and others might include them as illegal border crossers.  As a result, we decided to include them here.  Although data is a little sketchy on these instances, Pakistan-born Majid Shoukat Khan and Shahawar Matin Siraj are two of the eleven asylum-seekers who probably initially entered illegally before asking for asylum.  They entered in 1996 and 1998, respectively.  They are both from a special interest country, neither of them committed an attack, neither injured or murdered anyone, and they both crossed the Canadian border.

Although there have been zero attacks committed by illegal border crossers from any of the special interest countries, foreign-born people who entered legally from those countries were responsible for 99.5 percent of all murders and 94.7 percent of all injuries committed by foreign-born terrorists on U.S. soil from 1975 through the end of 2017.  This isn’t surprising as the 9/11 terrorists are responsible for over 98 percent of all the murders and 87 percent of all of the injuries committed by foreign-born terrorists over this time.  Of the small number of foreign-born terrorists who committed attacks or were convicted of planning to do so on U.S. soil from 1975 through the end of 2017, the most successful strategy was to first enter legally.  There is no evidence that that pattern of activity has changed.     

Conclusion

So far, there have been zero people murdered or injured in terror attacks committed by illegal border crossers on U.S. soil.  This includes those who entered as illegal immigrants and those who entered illegally and then applied for asylum.  Only seven terrorists from special interest countries, all of whom entered prior to the government putting those countries on a list, even entered the U.S. illegally by crossing a land border.  Two of them were arrested within hours of doing so, two other received asylum, and none of them crossed the Mexican border. 

Our above evidence is based on past events.  The future could be different, but those who think that special interest aliens from these countries will enter illegally across the Mexican border and commit terrorist attacks here should present some compelling evidence before policymakers take them seriously.   

*Numbers based on a forthcoming updated Cato Institute policy analysis.

December 6, 2018 4:11PM

Center for Immigration Studies Overstates Immigrant, Non‐​Citizen, and Native Welfare Use

The Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) just released a new report that purports to show that 63 percent of non-citizen households are on welfare compared to 35 percent of native-born households in 2014.  The purpose of this report was to justify the president’s new public charge rule.  For years, CIS and I have debated this topic and this blog is yet another installment.  Please follow these links to read the previous installments.

There are a few issues with the CIS report and an unsound methodological choice that they made that results in inflating the welfare use rates for immigrants and natives.  I’m just going to make two points below.

First, the welfare use rate reported by CIS is much higher than the welfare use rates estimated by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) even though they both relied on the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP).  DHS did look at 2013 and CIS looked at 2014, but one year shouldn’t make much of a difference as no new big welfare laws were passed then.  The biggest difference between the DHS and CIS analysis is that CIS used households as a unit of analysis and DHS used individuals (more on this below).  Table 1 shows the differences.  CIS reports much higher welfare use for natives, the foreign-born, and non-citizens for every program.  Table 2 shows just how much higher CIS’ estimates are for every welfare program relative to DHS’ estimates.  Relative to DHS’ estimates, CIS estimates that native-born welfare use rates are an average of 95 percent higher, foreign-born use rates are an average of 173 percent higher, and non-citizen use rates are an average of 208 percent higher. 

 

Table 1

Estimated Welfare Use Rates by the Organization that Conducted the Analysis

 

Department of Homeland Security (2013)


Center for Immigration Studies (2014)

Benefit Program

Natives


Foreign Born


Non-Citizens


Natives


Foreign Born


Non-Citizens

Cash or non-cash

20.9


20.9


22.6


30.4


49.5


57.7

Cash benefits

3.4


3.7


1.8


7.7


9.6


6.3


SSI


2.4


3.2


1.3


6.3


8.2


4.5


TANF


0.8


0.3


0.4


1.3


1.1


1.4


GA


0.3


0.2


0.2


NA


NA


NA

Non-cash benefits

20.4


20.4


22.3


NA


NA


NA


Medicaid


16.1


15.1


15.5


23.3


41.9


49.9


SNAP


11.6


8.7


9.1


15.2


18.4


23


Housing Vouchers


1.6


1.7


1.4


4.7


5.1


3.9


Rent subsidy


3.9


4.8


4.3


NA


NA


NA

Sources: Center for Immigration Studies, Table 1; Department of Homeland Security, Table 11.

 

Table 2

Percentage Difference Between CIS and DHS Welfare Use Rate Estimates

Benefit Program

Natives


Foreign Born


Non-Citizens

Cash or non-cash

45%


137%


155%


Cash benefits


126%


159%


250%


SSI


163%


156%


246%


TANF


63%


267%


250%


GA


NA


NA


NA

Non-cash benefits

NA


NA


NA


Medicaid


45%


177%


222%


SNAP


31%


111%


153%


Housing Vouchers


194%


200%


179%


Rent subsidy


NA


NA


NA

 Sources: Center for Immigration Studies, Table 1; Department of Homeland Security, Table 11; author’s calculations.

 

Second, CIS chose to use a head of household unit of analysis rather than an individual unit of analysis.  This means that they designated some households as headed by non-citizens and others as headed by natives based on SIPP responses.  Thus, CIS’ analysis counts many native-born American children, American citizen spouses in immigrant households, and doesn’t control for the size of the households.  CIS does show welfare household use rates without non-citizens in them, but the entire household unit of analysis is a flawed way to look at welfare use rates.  The DHS sided with Cato on this long-standing issue as it measured individual welfare use rates and didn’t bother with an antiquated head of household measure.  The only close approximations to a household or family-level analysis that DHS conducted were in Tables 16 and 17 of its report, but it only compared citizens to non-citizens.  Tables 16 and 17 unsurprisingly find that people with more children have higher welfare use rates.

DHS isn’t the only organization to agree that the individual is the proper unit of analysis.  According to the massive report on the economic and fiscal consequences of immigration published National Academy of Sciences (NAS), the individual is the proper unit of analysis for fiscal cost analysis.  Since welfare use rates are a subset of fiscal cost analyses, it makes sense to use the individual rather than the household.  The NAS authors wrote:

 

households are not stable over time and because the costs and benefits originating in mixed households often need to be divided between native-born and foreign-born members—as opposed to having to ascribe them exclusively to one group or the other—the individual unit of analysis is more flexible and empirically feasible for dynamic analyses (338).

 

Even in static analyses, the NAS argues that the problem of how “to define an immigrant household (339)” breaks in favor of an individual unit of analysis to at least maintain consistency between the dynamic and static methods.  This is a big change from the NAS’ previous study in 1997 that argued for households as the unit of analysis.

The DHS and NAS both agree with Cato scholars that the individual is the proper unit of analysis in a welfare cost analysis by nativity.  CIS is on the other side of that issue.  I am not making an appeal to authority, but CIS should have to make a better case for why it persists in using the household level of analysis.

CIS’ analysis is not compelling.  A competing analysis of the same data by DHS, using the individual unit of analysis that Cato scholars have recommended, found that all immigrants have a welfare use rate identical to natives and that non-citizens only have a slightly higher usage rate. 

Cato scholars are very concerned with immigrant welfare use, which is why we’ve authored a study on how to eliminate non-citizen welfare use that is now in the form of legislation introduced by Representative Grothman (R-WI).  His bill would do more to save taxpayer dollars and reduce welfare use among immigrants than any refined public charge rule.  Although CIS and I do not agree on many of the facts regarding immigrant welfare use, we should be able to agree that approaches like those of Representative Grothman are better than a revised public charge rule. 

 

November 28, 2018 2:07PM

Center for Immigration Studies Shows a Very Small Threat from Terrorists Crossing the Mexican Border

Todd Bensman, the Senior National Security Fellow at the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), wrote a recent report entitled “Have Terrorists Crossed Our Border?” in which he presents a list of  “15 suspected terrorists have been apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border, or en route, since 2001.”  Bensman lists these 15 individuals, some of which don't have names, and describes their actions.  He writes that his research is based on publicly available information, so it is likely a “significant under-count” of the actual terrorists who entered.  Bensman also writes that “several reports that strongly indicated the crossing of additional migrant terrorism suspects were excluded from this list due to insufficient detail.” 

If the goal of this CIS report was to show how small the terrorist threat along the Mexican border is, then it succeeded marvelously.  None of the terrorists identified committed an attack on U.S. soil, were convicted of planning an attack on U.S. soil, or even charged with doing so.  They killed or injured zero people on U.S. soil in terrorist attacks.  The only actual terrorism conviction for this group is of conspiracy to materially aid a foreign terrorist organization.  However, one person who entered the United States on his way to Canada did commit an attack in Alberta where he injured five people. 

Six of the 15 people that Bensman identifies are unnamed, thus we cannot independently verify or check whether they belong on this list (Table 1).  Interestingly, much of the evidence for those six unnamed individuals comes from passing comments in news stories or a Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) report whose evidence is “deemed credible,” but that “could not be independently corroborated.”  Who deemed that evidence to be credible?  If people can’t independently corroborate the evidence, how can we know that it is credible?  We should take such claims with a large grain of salt, especially after frequent government terrorism exaggerations

Table 1 organizes the names that Bensman provides.  None committed or attempted to commit an attack on U.S. soil.  Two of the individuals were charged with terrorism offenses.  Mahmoud Kourani was charged and convicted of conspiracy to materially support a foreign terrorist organization (MSFT), Hezbollah, and sentenced to 54 months.  His actions are certainly troubling and should be illegal, but there is no evidence that he was a threat to American lives or property.  The Muhammad Kourani case is more nuanced and odd. He was a member of Hezbollah who became an informant for the United States.  After giving the FBI information on Hezbollah, the government used that information to charge Kourani with MSFT and conspiracy to do so.  There’s no evidence that he had any intention to every commit an attack on U.S. soil.  His trial will occur in 2019, so it’s premature to count him as a terrorist although he seems to have deep “ties” with Hezbollah.

Table 1
Terrorists, Suspected Terrorists, and Those with Suspected Terrorism Ties

Name Committed an Attack on US Soil Attempted or Planned an Attack on US Soil Terrorism Charges in the United States Terrorism Convictions in the United States Notes
Abdulahi Sharif No No No No Sharif committed an attack in Canada, injuring 5.
Ibrahim Qoordheen No No No No  
Unidentified Afghan national No No No No  
Muhammad Azeem No No No No  
Mukhtar Ahmad No No No No  
Unnamed Somali national No No No No  
Unnamed Sri Lankan national No No No No  
Unnamed Somali national No No No No  
Unnamed Bangladeshi National No No No No  
Abdullahi Omar Fidse No No No No 18 USC 1505 is not a terrorism statute, but there is an extra penalty if it involves a terrorism investigation. 
Mohammad Ahmad Dhakane No No No No  
Farida Goolam Ahmed No No No No  
Muhammad Kourani No No MSFT and MSFT Conspiracy No A court case is scheduled for 2019.
Al-Manar Television employee No No No No  
Mahmoud Kourani No No MSFT Conspiracy Yes  

 

Source: “Have Terrorists Crossed Our Border?” by Todd Bensman. 

Another interesting example is Ibrahim Qoordheen (sometimes spelled Qoordheer), who was arrested in Costa Rica while supposedly on his way to the U.S. border.  There is almost no publicly available research on him after his arrest in March 2017.  Gustavo Mata, the Costa Rican Minister of Public Security, said they would extradite Qoordheen to the United States if the U.S. government provided any evidence of his terrorism ties beyond a hit in a government database.  There is no government press release announcing his extradition to the United States and no other evidence online of what happened to Qoordheen, but he certainly wasn’t charged or convicted with any terrorism offenses in the United States. 

The only example of a real terrorist who crossed the border with Mexico during this time was Abdulahi Sharif.  He injured five people in an attack in Canada in 2017 and is currently awaiting trial there.  The evidence is sketchy, but Sharif apparently tried to enter the United States through a port of entry in 2011 and was detained – as he should have been.  There’s no indication that he made an asylum claim.  Regardless, the U.S. government let him go because it could not deport him to Somalia and lost track of him as he applied for refugee or asylum status in Canada in early 2012.  Five years later, Sharif tried to murder five people in Alberta, Canada.  Six years passed from Sharif’s attempted entry to the United States in 2011 to his attack in Canada in 2017.  His weapons were a knife and a car.  It’s hard to believe that he was planning to commit an attack before going to Canada, but a perfect system that could predict the future would have stopped him.  It bears repeating that Sharif did not commit an attack on U.S. soil and did not plan to commit an attack here.

Furthermore, Bensman’s rhetoric is unreasonably alarming relative to the scale of the terrorist threat along the Mexican border.  The title of Bensman’s report is “Have Terrorists Crossed Our Border?”  Surely, that means he must be talking about only terrorists, right?  Nope.  The subtitle walks back the title: “An initial count of suspected terrorists encountered en route and at the U.S. Southwest Border Since 2001 [emphasis added].”  So, his report only covers suspected terrorists?  Nope.  Elsewhere in the document, Bensman writes that his report:

[P]rovides an initial accounting of publicly documented instances, between 2001 and November 2018, of some 15 migrants with credibly suspected or confirmed terrorism ties who were encountered at the southern border after smuggling through Latin America, or who were encountered while presumably en route [emphasis added].

Those with “credibly suspected or confirmed terrorism ties,” are quite a bit different from suspected terrorists and even more distantly related to real terrorists.  Lots of people have “ties” to terrorists that are not significant in any way.  For instance, those related to terrorists have “terrorism ties,” but that does not mean that the family members of terrorists are themselves, terrorists.  In other words, he’s counting just about everyone apprehended who has “terrorism ties” according to “credible” evidence that “could not be independently corroborated” in many cases.  To see how ludicrous this standard is, which is common in much of the terrorism literature, substitute in another crime such as robbery for “terrorism” and see how unremarkable these statements are.   

This is a common rhetorical trick in terrorism publications.  For instance, a government list of “627 terrorism-related” prosecutions revealed that 45 percent of them were only convicted of non-terrorism offenses.  The three Abuali brothers are my favorites.  They are included in the government’s list of “terrorism-related” convictions even though their crime was stealing boxes of breakfast cereal, Kellogg’s specifically.  Stealing boxes of Raisin Bran is a crime, but depriving people of their breakfast doesn’t count as terrorism and neither are the cases that Bensman provides below. 

A count of real terrorists who have crossed the Mexican border since 2001 and wanted to harm Americans would be very short: it would contain zero names.  Three people entered the U.S. illegally through the Mexican border in 1984 and grew up to be terrorists who were convicted of planning an incompetent plot in 2008.  When Americans think of terrorists, they think of people attacking Americans on U.S. soil.  Sending information to Hezbollah is a terrorist offense and it should be illegal, but it is not as dangerous or severe as setting off a bomb or shooting people in pursuit of Jihad.  The only possible exception to this is Abdulahi Sharif who entered the United States on his way to Canada where he then committed an attack five years later. 

Bensman claims that he left out many names because of “insufficient detail,” but one can only imagine how thin the evidence against them is based on how little of it exists to condemn men with names as terrifying as “Al-Manar Television employee” and “Unnamed Bangladeshi national.”  Except for Abdulahi Sharif, who tried to enter through a port of entry and then went to Canada several years before committing his attack where he injured five people, there is little evidence of a terrorist threat from the Mexican border.  If this is the best evidence available of a terrorist threat across the Mexican border, then we should all feel a lot more secure.  

April 24, 2017 1:32PM

The Border Wall Cannot Pay for Itself

Recent budget talks between the White House and Congress shows that President Trump puts a high value on funding the construction of a border wall. Crucial to this debate is how much a border wall will cost to construct and maintain. Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) published a brief report purporting to show that building a wall along the southern border would pay for itself if it keeps out only 160,000 to 200,000 border crossers over the next decade. That means the border wall would only have to deter about 9 to 12 percent of all illegal border crossers who would have successfully made it into the United States during that period. The report uses a variety of assumptions that unrealistically lower the cost of the wall as well as inflate the fiscal cost of border crossers.

We used more recent and precise data to update CIS’s analysis without altering its methodology. Simply using newer numbers—with no changes to the report’s unrealistic underlying assumptions—proves that the border wall cannot pay for itself. Despite fanciful promises to the contrary, a border wall is too expensive and will deter too few illegal immigrants to pay for itself—even under assumptions that are extremely generous to those who support a wall.

Updating CIS’ Analysis

The first update was to factor in a more recent estimate of the cost of a border wall. The CIS study chose to rely on a statement made by Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) rather than any actual cost estimate. We used an official estimate from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued after the majority leader’s comment. This placed the cost of building a 1,250-mile border wall at $21.6 billion, or $17,280,000 per mile, that includes all costs such as the condemnation of private property through eminent domain. We also include the yearly maintenance costs. 

The second is that we adjust CIS’ fiscal cost estimate by controlling for the age of the border crossers. The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) fiscal cost estimates show that the immigrant age of arrival is vital for estimating their fiscal impact. CIS used the 2010 education level of Mexican illegal immigrants as a proxy for the education level of all future border crossers. We used the March CPS to adjust for this by assuming that the education of future illegal immigrants will be more similar to those arriving in 2015 than 2010. We further divided up the illegal border crossers by age and education to get a more accurate view of their potential fiscal impact. 

Using a more recent estimate of the border wall cost as well as the age of entry and education levels for unlawful border crossers shows that the border wall would have to deter the entry of about 1 million illegal immigrants over the next ten years to break even—an estimated 5 to 6.3 times as many as CIS estimated. Furthermore, this means that the border wall would have to permanently deter 59 percent of the predicted border crossers over the next ten years to break even. This does not include the cost of any additional enforcement measures such as hiring more border agents, border returns, or border deportations. 

Calculating the Fiscal Cost

First, we used the 2016 March CPS to look at the ages and education of new immigrants from Mexico and Central America who comprise virtually all unlawful immigrants who enter as border crossers (Table 1).

Table 1

New Central American & Mexican Immigrants by Age & Education in 2015

 

0-24


25-64


65+

Less than HS 18.93% 25.73% 1.94%
HS Grad 10.19% 18.45% 0.49%
SC 2.91% 9.22% 0.97%
College 0.97% 5.83% 0.00%
College+ 0.00% 4.37% 0.00%

Source: 2016 March CPS.

Second, we took the average fiscal net present value (NPV) for each education-age cell from the NAS’ Table 8-12 (Table 2). We chose Table 8-12 because that was the table chosen by the author of the CIS report. 

Table 2

Fiscal Net Present Value of Immigrants by Age of Arrival & Education in 2015

 

0-24


25-64


65+

Less than HS -24,000 -225,500 -265,625
HS Grad 77,625 -105,125 -174,625
SC 156,625 12,375 -161,000
College 210,125 213,750 -179,875
College+ 199,375 547,125 -122,375

Source: National Academy of Sciences, averages from Table 8-12.

Third, we used CIS’ downward adjustment numbers to diminish the fiscal NPV to account for them being illegal immigrants (Table 3). This is the most objectionable part of the CIS study. Their downward adjustment figure is based on numbers from a notoriously flawed report, assumes a non-discounted household fiscal value is comparable to the NAS’ individual level fiscal net present value estimate, adjusts benefits and tax revenues down equally even though illegal immigrants receive virtually zero welfare benefits, and are unadjusted by age. We kept this highly flawed step to show that we did not have to change CIS’ methods to get drastically different results. A better downward adjustment figure would decrease government expenditures on illegal immigrants more than their tax payments. 

Table 3

Adjustment Downward

 

0-24


25-64


65+

Less than HS 0.676 0.676 0.676
HS Grad 0.799 0.799 0.799
SC 0.893 0.893 0.893
College 0.221 0.221 0.221
College+ 0.221 0.221 0.221

Source: Center for Immigration Studies.

Fourth, we multiplied each cell by its corresponding cell in the above charts to get the fiscal NPV of illegal immigrants by age, education, and the percentage of immigrants by age/education cell (Table 4). This table is not useful outside of this cost projection as it is merely a means to add together the average NPV of a new border crosser. 

Table 4

Fiscal Net Present Value of Immigrants by Age of Arrival & Education in 2015

  0-24 25-64 65+
Less than HS -3,072 -39,219 -3,487
HS Grad 6,323 -15,494 -677
SC 4,074 1,019 -1,396
College 451 2,752 0
College+ 0 5,283 0

Source: Authors’ Calculations.

Adjusting for age and education, the average NPV fiscal cost of a new illegal immigrant border crosser is -$43,444, which is 42 percent less than CIS’ estimate of -$74,722.

Calculating the Cost of the Border Wall 

Calculating the cost of the border wall over the next ten years is the second portion of this model. We use the newer DHS cost estimate, assume all construction costs occur in the first year, and that the length of the new border fence will cover the remaining 1,637 miles of the border where there currently isn’t a pedestrian fence. We also included annual maintenance costs not counted in the CIS estimate for the entire length of the wall (Table 5). Our more realistic ten-year cost estimate for the border wall is $43.8 billion – 2.9 to 3.7 times as high as CIS’ estimate. 

Table 5

Cost of Border Wall

Year Construction Costs (Per Mile) New Fence (Miles) Border (Miles) Current Fence (Miles) Construction Costs (Total) Maintenance Costs (Per Mile) Maintenance Costs (Total) Total Cost
1 $17,280,000 1,637 1,954 317 $28.3 billion $864,353 $274,000,000 $28.6 billion
2 $17,280,000 1,637 1,954 317 $0 $864,353 $1.69 billion $1.69 billion
3 $17,280,000 1,637 1,954 317 $0 $864,353 $1.69 billion $1.69 billion
4 $17,280,000 1,637 1,954 317 $0 $864,353 $1.69 billion $1.69 billion
5 $17,280,000 1,637 1,954 317 $0 $864,353 $1.69 billion $1.69 billion
6 $17,280,000 1,637 1,954 317 $0 $864,353 $1.69 billion $1.69 billion
7 $17,280,000 1,637 1,954 317 $0 $864,353 $1.69 billion $1.69 billion
8 $17,280,000 1,637 1,954 317 $0 $864,353 $1.69 billion $1.69 billion
9 $17,280,000 1,637 1,954 317 $0 $864,353 $1.69 billion $1.69 billion
10 $17,280,000 1,637 1,954 317 $0 $864,353 $1.69 billion $1.69 billion

Source: DHS, Reuters, Authors’ Calculations.

Results

Comparing the adjusted fiscal NPV of -$43,444 to the adjusted wall cost of $43.8 billion reveals that the wall would have to deter just over 1 million illegal immigrants who would have otherwise entered the United States. That means the border wall, by itself, would have to deter about 59 percent of all border crossers who would have otherwise successfully entered. This result only comes from using more updates and specific numbers than CIS did and not by changing their underlying methods. 

Three Additional Simulations

We ran three additional simulations to see how CIS’ estimate holds up under slightly different assumptions. Our first simulation uses a different fiscal cost estimate. Our second relies on a different assumption about the flow of illegal immigrant border crossers. Our third relies on a different border wall cost of construction estimate.

Our first simulation kept every table above as the same except we replaced Table 2 with the better fiscal cost estimate from Table 6. The new Table 6 contains the fiscal NPV of immigrants for the federal government only and excludes the incremental costs of public goods. This is the best table because the federal government will actually be paying for the wall and because spending on pure public goods does not increase due to more immigrants because they are non-rivalrous and non-excludable. Table 6, combined with the other tables above, produced an average fiscal NPV of -$33,932 for each illegal border crosser. Plugging that higher fiscal NPV into our model shows that the border wall would have to deter 1.3 million unlawful immigrant border crossers, or 73 percent of all those who would come without the wall, to break even—a number 6.2 to 7.8 times as high as CIS’ estimates.

Table 6

Federal Only NPV Per Immigrant, Public Goods Excluded

 

0-24


25-64


65+

Less than HS 13,000 -215,000 -229,000
HS Grad 108,000 -109,000 -152,000
SC 189,000 2,000 -149,000
College 264,000 220,000 -159,000
College+ 271,000 567,000 -104,000

Source: National Academy of Sciences, averages from Table 8-15.

The second simulation we ran uses CIS’ tables but assumes that the 50 percent reduction in illegal immigrant entries during February and March of 2017, relative to the same months in 2016, continues for the next decade. This means that there would be an estimated 850,000 successful border crossers over the next decade rather than the higher pre-Trump estimate of 1.7 million. However, the costs of the wall do not budge. In this situation, the border wall would have to deter 118.5 percent of the number of estimated border crossers over the next decade to break even—a mathematically impossible feat. 

The third simulation we ran uses the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) cost estimate for the border wall, which is similar to a cost estimate produced by Senate Democrats on the House Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee. The only difference is that we took MIT’s per mile estimate and added 36.3 percent for the cost of land acquisition. This brings the 10-year border wall construction and maintenance costs up to $98.6 billion. Under this scenario, the border wall would have to deter 2.3 million to 2.9 million border crossers over the next decade to break even—an estimate 134 percent to 171 percent of all the border crossers that the government predict to come over the next ten years. That is mathematically impossible.

A Better Cost Estimate Should Include These Variables

A better fiscal cost analysis of the border wall will include the more detailed demographic and age profile of anticipated illegal immigrant border crossers as well as several other factors listed below.

  1. The wall will not prevent nearly as many apprehensions as assumed. CIS’ report does not provide any evidence that the wall will stop illegal immigrant border crossers. There is virtually no evidence that the current border barriers—particularly those outside of urban areas—have any impact on the net flow of illegal entries. The main effect of border barriers is to channel illegal border crossers into more remote areas. The Congressional Research Service concluded, “The primary fence, by itself, did not have a discernible impact on the influx of unauthorized aliens coming across the border in San Diego.”
  2. Marginal apprehensions are costly. CIS also assumes that catching people has zero fiscal cost. A proper fiscal accounting compares all of the taxpayer costs and benefits of apprehension with all of the costs and benefits of the illegal border crosser living and working in the United States. Ideally, such an estimate would also compare the costs and benefits of allowing the worker into the United States legally with a guest worker visa or some sort of other employment authorization document. According to the Department of Homeland Security, each removal of an unauthorized immigrant costs taxpayers almost $9,000. Almost half of the immigrants included in this estimate were apprehended in the interior as opposed to the border. Assuming that border removals are half as costly as those in the interior, apprehending 1.7 million illegal border crossers and deporting them will cost $7.65 billion dollars. 
  3. Walls don’t apprehend border crossers. Government employees do, and they are expensive. CIS also assumes that enforcement of the wall will require no additional personnel, despite the fact that the executive order requiring its creation mandates the hiring of 5,000 additional border agents. “If you build a wall, you would still have to back that wall up with patrolling by human beings,” Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly recently told Congress. The annual average cost of a federal employee including benefits is $123,160. This makes the ten-year cost of 5,000 new employees roughly $6.2 billion on top of the cost of apprehensions.
  4. Not all border crossers retire in the United States. CIS assumes that border crossers retire in the United States at the same rate as other immigrants. This point is important because a large proportion of the fiscal costs are incurred after the worker retires and becomes eligible for Social Security and Medicare. However, border crossers are much more likely to return to their home countries than retire in the United States. Harvard economist George Borjas found that 42 percent of Mexican immigrants, who make the largest share of the illegal immigrant population, emigrated in the 1990s while the worldwide average was just 18 percent. Mexican illegal immigrants are most likely to be illegal border crossers. Some research indicates that the illegal immigrant emigration rate could even be 50 percent. Thus, fiscal costs later in life need to be adjusted downward for age and rates of immigration for illegal border crossers.
  5. Border crossers are younger than the average immigrant. The age of the border crossers changes the estimates of the net fiscal impact. CIS and Cato rely on older and imperfect estimates from the Current Population Survey. The latest Border Patrol estimate of the age of apprehended border crossers is from 2010 and the huge surge of Unaccompanied Alien Children has since decreased their average age. The NAS report acknowledges that the younger age profile of illegal immigrants reduces their net fiscal cost: 

"These estimates suggest that unauthorized immigrants as a group may have a more positive fiscal impact than authorized immigrants, but only because of their age structure. The average undocumented immigrant is of younger working age than the average documented immigrant (there are very few undocumented immigrants of retirement age); thus, the net fiscal impact of the former is more positive at the federal level and overall. Also, as detailed in Chapter 3, undocumented individuals, young unauthorized immigrants who qualify for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, temporary visa holders, and recent legal permanent residents are ineligible to receive benefits from some programs; and unauthorized immigrants do not qualify for the earned income tax credit. Nonetheless, since, at any given age, unauthorized immigrants tend to earn less than their authorized counterparts, controlling for age, they are less of a benefit to public finances than authorized immigrants (p. 280)."

  1. Unauthorized immigrants expand economic growth, which increases tax revenues. Any fiscal cost estimate needs to consider the lost tax revenue from reduced economic growth. 

Conclusion

Those who support Trump’s border wall should be able to make the case without relying on unrealistically cheap construction costs and outrageous estimates of the number of illegal immigrants that it will deter. Assuming future border crossers have similar ages and educations as more recent crossers make it virtually impossible for the border wall to pay for itself. Adjusting for higher border wall construction costs estimated by MIT means the wall, by itself, would have to deter more people who are estimated to even enter over the next decade without a wall. Whatever the purported benefits of such a wall, its construction will cost a great deal more than it will save even under very generous assumptions. 

July 18, 2016 12:46PM

The Public Is Increasingly Pro‐​Immigration

James G. Gimpel’s new report for the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) has a good summary of voter opinion on immigration and how the issue influenced the rise of Donald Trump.  Undoubtedly, that issue key to his success in the GOP primary, although it’s unclear why equally nativist but more polite candidates like Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum, and Scott Walker failed to gain traction.        

My only problem with this report is its selective display of Gallup’s immigration polling data.  The CIS starts reporting the results in 1999 and omits whether Americans support more immigration (Figure 1).  By starting the data in 1999, the report is able to argue that opposition to legal immigration and those supporting the same number of immigrants have been roughly constant since 1999. 

Figure 1

CIS Graph   

Media Name: cisgraph.jpg

 

Source: Immigration Opinion and the Rise of Donald Trump.

If the CIS report had included the “Increased” immigration option in the poll and the years going back to 1965, you would have seen this (Figure 2).  I highlighted the years 1993 and 2015 to show how far public opinion has shifted toward the pro-immigration side over the last 22 years. 

Figure 2

Gallup Opinion on Immigration

Media Name: gallup_immigration.jpg

 

Source: Gallup.

A mere six percent of the public supported increased immigration in 1993, but that increased to 25 percent in 2015 – a more than four-fold jump.  Those satisfied with present immigration levels increased by 13 percentage points.  Those who supported less immigration, CIS’ stated policy goal, decreased from 65 percent of the U.S. population to 34 percent.  Since nativism’s high-water mark in 1993, a greater percentage of Americans support the same level of immigration and more legal immigration than ever before.  The last time the less immigration position was this unpopular, Congress passed the Immigration Act of 1965 - that's a good omen.

Gallup’s findings are not an aberration.  Other polls conducted by the General Social Survey, the American National Election Survey, and New York Times-CBS all find similar results.  Trump has done well with the segment of the population that wants to shrink immigration, but that segment has imploded over the last 22 years.  Americans are not anti-immigration and those who do hold such beliefs are shrinking as a percentage of the population.     

May 10, 2016 6:42PM

CIS Exaggerates the Cost of Immigrant Welfare Use

Yesterday the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) published a report authored by Jason Richwine on the welfare cost of immigration. The CIS headline result, that immigrant-headed households consume more welfare than natives, lacks any kind of reasonable statistical controls.  To CIS’s credit, they do include tables with proper controls buried in their report and its appendix.  Those tables with proper controls undermine many of their headline findings.  In the first section, I will discuss how CIS’ buried results undermine their own headline findings.  In the next section, I will explain some of the other problems with their results and headline findings. 

CIS’s Other Results

The extended tables in the CIS report paint a far more nuanced picture of immigrant welfare use than they advertised.  To sum up the more detailed findings:

“In the no-control scenario, immigrant households cost $1,803 more than native households, which is consistent with Table 2 above. The second row shows that the immigrant-native difference becomes larger — up to $2,323 — when we control for the presence of a worker in the household. The difference then becomes gradually smaller as controls are added for education and number of children. The fourth row shows that immigrant households with the same worker status, education, and number of children as native households cost just $309 more, which is a statistically insignificant difference. The fifth row shows that immigrants use fewer welfare dollars when they are compared to natives of the same race as well as worker status, education, and number of children." [emphasis added]

All of the tables I reference below are located in CIS’s report.   

Table 5 shows that households headed by an immigrant with less than a high school education consume less welfare than native households with the same education level.  For every other level of education, immigrant-headed households consume more than natives in the same education bracket. 

Table 6 controls for the number of children in native and immigrant households.  Immigrant households with one child, two children, and three or more children all consume fewer welfare benefits that the same sized native households. The only exception is that immigrant households without any children consume more. 

Table 7 has more mixed results. It shows that Hispanic and black immigrant-headed households consume less welfare than Hispanic and black native-headed households.  Immigrant white and Asian immigrants consume more welfare than native households headed by whites and Asians.  Table 8 breaks down their results with numerous different controls.  When controlled for a worker in the household, the number of children, the education of the head of household, and race, immigrant households consume less welfare.        

Table A3 shows that immigrant households with the youngest heads, 29 years old and under, impose a much lower cost than households headed by natives of the same age.  Table A4 shows that immigrants impose the greatest welfare costs in their first five years of residency but it decreases afterward and never again rises to that high initial level.  Table A5 shows that immigrant-headed working households with less than a high school degree consume less welfare than their native household counterparts.  For all other educational groups, the immigrant-headed households consume more than the comparable native-headed household. 

Table A6 shows immigrant headed households with children by race. Households headed by Hispanic, black, and Asian immigrants all consume less welfare than their native counterparts.  Households headed by white immigrants consume more welfare than white natives. 

Table A7 controls for poverty and race.  Overall, immigrant households in poverty consume less welfare than native households in poverty.  Hispanic and black immigrant households both massively under consume compared to native Hispanics and blacks.  White and Asian immigrant-headed households, on the other hand, consume more welfare than native households headed by members of the same race.

Many of the report's detailed tables that use proper controls undermine their main conclusion. Excluding the bullet points at the beginning, this is a much more careful report than CIS has issued in the past. As a result, the report does come to a more nuanced conclusion than the headlines about it indicate.

Broader Issues

Below I will describe in detail some methodological and other issues with the CIS analysis – some of which expand on CIS’s controlled results that were not headlined. 

Individual Welfare Use or Head of Household

The CIS report compared all immigrant households and all of their inhabitants, including millions of native-born citizen children and U.S.-born spouses, with all households headed by native-born Americans. Richwine admits that the larger family size of immigrant households accounts for much (not all) of their greater welfare use because those born in the United States are eligible for all means-tested welfare benefits – even though Table 6 shows that immigrant households controlled for children consume a lower level of benefits.  A household level analysis does not reveal who receives the benefits, leaving the impression that the immigrants are the intended legal beneficiaries when they are often legally excluded from these programs. 

The CIS report should have compared immigrant individuals to native-born individuals for three reasons.  First, the number of people in an individual does not vary but the number of people in a household can vary tremendously.  The greater number of children in the immigrant household, rather than any different level of individual welfare use, is what largely drove the report's results. 

Second, Medicaid and SSI benefit levels and eligibility are determined on an individual basis, not a household one.  Many immigrants are legally ineligible for those programs but their U.S.-born spouses and children do have access.  Thus, CIS counts the benefits received by the U.S.-born children even though the immigrants themselves are often ineligible.  This gives an inflated picture of immigrant welfare use. 

Third, it’s a lot easier and more accurate to compute the immigrant and native welfare costs when they are individuals than it is to work backward from the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP), budgetary data, and imputations of program costs necessary due to a household analysis.   

Cato published an analysis of poor immigrant welfare use that compares individuals.  As a result, we can see the immigration or citizenship status, within limits, of the actual welfare users and the amount they consume.  The immigrants themselves are almost always less likely to use welfare and consume a lower dollar value of benefits than similar natives – as CIS corroborates in Table A7 of their report. 

The immigrant-headed household unit of analysis used in the CIS report presents other problems.  As a unit, it is just not as meaningful as it once was.  Professor Leighton Ku, director of the Center for Health Policy Research at George Washington University and a nationally recognized expert on these issues, wrote:

“Another problem is the ambiguous nature of what it means to be an ‘immigrant-headed household.’ In the CPS, a head of household is often assigned by the parent who is completing the survey: it could be the husband or wife. Consider an example of a five-person household, consisting of an immigrant male, a native-born wife, two native-born children, and a native-born unrelated person (such as someone renting a room). If the male has been deemed the head of household, this is an immigrant-headed household despite the fact that only one of five members is an immigrant and one (the renter) is not financially dependent on the immigrant. But if the wife was deemed the head of household, this would be a native-headed household, even though one member is an immigrant. Given that many families today have dual incomes and that the wife’s income often exceeds the husband’s, it is not clear if being assigned the ‘head of household’ in the Census form has much social meaning.”

The CIS report included the welfare cost of all the people living in the immigrant-headed household.  They make the defensible case that those U.S.-born children should be included because they would not exist in the United States and, therefore, would not consume welfare without the immigrant being here.  That’s a fair point, but it also leads to the defensible claim that the welfare consumed by the grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and every subsequent generation of an immigrant should also be included in the welfare calculation.  After all, without the initial immigrant, those subsequent welfare consuming native-born Americans wouldn’t be here either. 

The choice of researchers is to count just the immigrants and their welfare usage or to count the welfare consumed by the immigrants and all of their subsequent descendants.  Influenced by the Texas Office of the Comptroller, Cato decided to measure the welfare consumption of the immigrants themselves and excluded all of the subsequent generations.  CIS just counted the immigrants and their U.S.-born children and excluded their subsequent descendants (there are many grandchildren and great-grandchildren of immigrants alive today consuming welfare).     

Medicaid and Obamacare 

Differing Medicaid use rates and consumption levels account for over two-thirds of the entire gap between native and immigrant households in their headline results (table 2 of the CIS report).  That result is an artifact of the welfare system prior to the implementation of Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion. This difference will shrink or reverse when native enrollment and use rates rise in response to Obamacare’s mandated 2014 Medicaid expansion and rollout of exchange subsidies.

Reform Welfare or Restrict Legal Immigration – Which is Easier?

CIS seeks to use immigrant welfare use as an argument for cutting legal immigration.  Cato, on the other hand, has sought to build a wall around the welfare state and restrict non-citizen access rather than to more strictly regulate the international labor market.  When I suggested that CIS concentrate on reforming welfare over further restricting immigration, Richwine said, “[welfare reform is] not a policy change likely to occur in the near future.”  That may be true, but legally restricting legal immigration to the United States is even less likely to occur. 

Richwine’s explanation for focusing on immigration cuts rather than welfare reform doesn’t stand to scrutiny.  Congress has continually increased legal immigration levels since 1965. Congress considered a more restrictive immigration reform in 1996--and it was defeated handily.  In the mid-1990s, a high of 65 percent of Americans wanted to decrease immigration and Congress still couldn’t pass such a reform.  By mid-2015, only 34 percent of Americans wanted to decrease immigration.  The last time the anti-immigration opinion was this unpopular was in 1965 – on the eve of a transformative liberalization.   

Welfare, on the other hand, was reformed and restricted in 1996.  Furthermore, the public wants more reforms that limit welfare access and place more restrictions on welfare users. Historical trends and public opinion indicate that welfare reform is more likely and more popular than a severe reduction in legal immigration.  Regardless, CIS should join Cato and focus its efforts on restricting immigrant access to welfare rather than spin its wheels in a quixotic quest for a more restrictive immigration policy. 

Excluding the Big Welfare Programs

The CIS report only includes some means-tested welfare programs but excludes the rest of the welfare state.  Their report includes all immigrants and natives divided by households so it should include all of the welfare state – including the largest portions of Social Security and Medicare.  Immigrants pay large surpluses into Medicare and Social Security.  Richwine might object to including these programs because age and work history determine eligibility for the programs, so he might want to control for those factors.  That is a defensible argument, but it appears CIS thought that such a correction was not appropriate for the report's headline results because they do not control for the eligibility of the programs.  Tables with proper controls are buried later in the paper and the appendix. CIS should at least add Medicare and Social Security to the tables in its appendix.  

One of the explanations Richwine gave for this report was “[w]ith the nation facing a long-term budgetary deficit, this study helps illuminate immigration’s impact on that problem.”  As the OECD makes clear in its fiscal analysis, it makes little sense to exclude immigrant consumption and contribution to the old-age entitlement programs that are actually driving the long-term debt.  If CIS wishes to grapple with the fiscal issues surrounding immigration, there is vast empirical literature on the topic that they should consult.   

As a final point, CIS’s headline result should have compared poor immigrant welfare use to poor American welfare use instead of comparing all American households to all native households.  The welfare benefit programs analyzed here are all intended for the poor.  It adds little to include Americans and immigrants who are too wealthy to receive much welfare. 

Net Fiscal Effects

Richwine includes a section in this CIS report where he attempts to defend his 2013 Heritage Foundation fiscal cost estimate that was roundly criticized by economists on the left and right.  He makes a lot of confused statements concerning how to measure the fiscal impact of immigration.  Instead of rehashing those arguments, here’s one small criticism of his 2013 Heritage paper: It was a 50-year fiscal cost analysis without a discount rate.             

Conclusion

When they use appropriate controls in the later parts of their paper and their appendix, CIS reaches much less negative and sometimes even positive results than their messaging indicates. Many of the issues raised in this post may be too wonky for general consumption, but they are important for producing excellent research. Cato has published two working papers, a bulletin, a policy analysis, and a book chapter on immigrant welfare use and the broader fiscal effects in which we explain our methods and defend them against criticisms.  We even include a literature survey on the topic that discusses the different results from the National Research Council.  I invite anybody more interested in these issues to read them.      

Special thanks to Charles Hughes for his excellent comments and suggestions on an earlier draft of this blog post.

September 2, 2015 12:18PM

Center for Immigration Studies Report Exaggerates Immigrant Welfare Use

The Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) released a new report this morning on immigrant welfare use. CIS found that immigrants use far more welfare than natives do. CIS’ methodology, parts of which are suspect, is what produced this result – as we’ve pointed out to CIS multiple times. They also omitted a lot of information that would make for a better comparison between immigrants and natives. Simply put, the CIS study does not compare apples to apples but rather apples to elephants.

The first issue is that CIS counts the welfare use of households, which includes many native-born American citizens, rather than individuals. There might be some good reasons to do this but the immigrant-headed household variable CIS uses is ambiguous, poorly defined, and less used in modern research for those reasons. To CIS’ credit they try to separate out households with children but didn’t separate out American-born spouses. There is debate largely over whether to count the American born children of immigrants as a welfare cost of immigration. If we should count them, shouldn’t we also count the welfare use of grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and great-great-grandchildren of immigrants?  Such a way of counting would obviously produce a negative result but it would also not be informative.

Another problem with counting households rather than individuals is that immigrants and natives have different sized households. According to the American Community Survey, immigrant households have on average 3.37 people in them compared to 2.5 people in native-born households. All else remaining equal, we should expect higher welfare use in immigrant households just because they’re larger. CIS should have corrected for household size by focusing on individual welfare use – which is included in the SIPP.

The second issue with the CIS report is that it does not correct for income. Since means-tested welfare programs are designed for those with lower incomes, it makes sense to only compare use rates among those with lower incomes. It is not enlightening to statistically compare the welfare use rates of rich immigrants and Americans like Bill Gates or Warren Buffett to poorer immigrants and Americans as the CIS report does.

The interesting question is not whether poor people use more welfare than rich people but whether poor immigrants are more likely to use more welfare than poor natives. Our research found that poor immigrants are less likely to use welfare than poor natives. The CIS report isn’t very useful because it doesn’t correct for this.

The third issue with the CIS report is that they omitted the cash value of welfare benefits consumed by immigrant and native households. CIS only analyzed the use rates for each welfare program but they do not tell you how much welfare was actually consumed.  For instance, the cash value for many welfare benefits are determined by the number of eligible members living in the household.  If only half of the members of a household are eligible then the benefits are reduced.  Furthermore, CIS does not report how long immigrant households are in these benefit programs compared to natives.  Immigrants could be on these programs more frequently but for shorter periods of time and with fewer beneficiaries per household – which is roughly what we found.

Immigrant welfare usage could be higher but if the value of their benefits is lower then the picture changes.  A Cato report from 2013 written by George Washington University Professor Leighton Ku and lead research scientist and lecturer Brian Bruen included both the individual immigrant use rates of welfare programs and the monetary cost.  It turns out that when poor immigrants use welfare they consume a lower dollar value than poor natives do.  For poor adult Medicaid enrollees, natives consumed $3845 of benefits in 2010 compared to $2904 for immigrants.  Native born poor children enrolled in 2010 consumed $1030 in benefits while poor immigrant children enrolled only consumed $465.  This pattern also holds for food stamps and SSI (but not for cash assistance).

That CIS did not include any information on the monetary value of the benefits received, which is vital to understand the costs and benefits of various welfare programs not to mention fiscal cost estimates, is noteworthy.

The fourth issue is that this CIS analysis necessarily excludes the largest portions of the welfare state – Medicare and Social Security.  Social Security and Medicare are not intended for the poor but they are the largest programs in the welfare state. An OECD analysis of immigration’s impact on the U.S. budget found that immigrant net-contributions to Social Security and Medicare from 2007 to 2009 vastly outweigh their net-consumption of means-tested welfare which decreased U.S. government deficits by about 0.03 percent of GDP.

If you are really concerned about immigrant welfare use, you should be in favor of reforming welfare, eliminating it, or building a wall around the welfare state.  The most successful part of the 1996 Welfare Reform was limiting access to non-citizens – which could be partly responsible for the uptick in immigrant LFPR compared to natives since then. All are easier to do than stopping immigration.  In fact, the last time American immigration laws were well enforced without a large scale guest worker or legal entry program was during the Great Depression and World War II – when nobody wanted to come.

I co-authored a policy analysis on how to build a wall around the welfare state with my former colleague Sophie Cole who had to move back to the United Kingdom because of our atrocious immigration laws. Rather than remove 11-12 million unlawful immigrants, impose economically expensive immigration barriers that are even more onerous than at present, and shrink U.S. population growth, reforming welfare is very cheap and easy to do.